Published On: Mon, Sep 24th, 2012

In New York, defiant Ahmadinejad says Israel will be “eliminated”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday disregarded a U.N. warning to avoid incendiary rhetoric and declared ahead of the annual General Assembly session that Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be "eliminated."

In remarks to reporters in New York, Ahmadinejad also said he did not take seriously the threat that Israel could launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, denied sending arms into Syria, and alluded to Iran's threats against the life of British author Salman Rushdie.

The United States quickly dismissed the Iranian president's comments as "disgusting, offensive and outrageous."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted Israel could strike Iran's nuclear sites and criticized U.S. President Barack Obama's position that sanctions and diplomacy should be given more time to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear arms and says its atomic work is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity.

"Fundamentally we do not take seriously the threats of the Zionists," Ahmadinejad said. "We have all the defensive means at our disposal and we are ready to defend ourselves."

On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Ahmadinejad and warned him of the dangers of incendiary rhetoric in the Middle East.

Ahmadinejad did not heed the warning and, speaking to reporters through an interpreter, alluded to his previous rejection of Israel's right to exist.

"Iran has been around for the last seven, 10 thousand years. They (the Israelis) have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history," he said, referring to the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948.

"We do believe that they have found themselves at a dead end and they are seeking new adventures in order to escape this dead end. Iran will not be damaged with foreign bombs," Ahmadinejad said.

"We don't even count them as any part of any equation for Iran. During a historical phase, they (the Israelis) represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated," Ahmadinejad added.

In 2005, Ahmadinejad called Israel a "tumor" and echoed the words of the former Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by saying that Israel should be wiped off the map.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor denounced the Iranian president's latest comments and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel's security.

"President Ahmadinejad's comments are characteristically disgusting, offensive and outrageous. They underscore again why America's commitment to the security of Israel must be unshakeable, and why the world must hold Iran accountable for its utter failure to meet its obligations," Vietor said.

The United States also officially linked Iran's state oil company to the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a move that enables Washington to apply new sanctions on foreign banks dealing with the National Iranian Oil Company.

Later on Monday, Ahmadinejad addressed a high-level U.N. meeting on the rule of law, and his remarks there prompted a walkout by the Israeli delegation.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a brigadier general in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was quoted on Sunday as saying that Iran could launch a pre-emptive strike on Israel if it was sure the Jewish state was preparing to attack it.

Ahmadinejad said the nuclear issue was ultimately between the United States and Iran, and must be resolved with negotiations.

"The nuclear issue is not a problem," he added. "But the approach of the United States on Iran is important. We are ready for dialogue, for a fundamental resolution of the problems, but under conditions that are based on fairness and mutual respect."

"We are not expecting a 33-year-old problem between the United States and Iran to be resolved in a speedy fashion," he said. "But there is no other way besides dialogue."

Obama will underscore his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and address Muslim unrest related to an anti-Islamic video in his speech to General Assembly on Tuesday, the White House said.

'BULLYING COUNTRIES'

In his address to the meeting on the rule of law, Ahmadinejad said states should not yield to international law as imposed "by bullying countries." He is due to speak at U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

In the past, Ahmadinejad has used his U.N. speeches to defend Iran's nuclear program and to attack Israel, the United States and Europe. He has also questioned the Holocaust and cast doubt on whether 19 hijackers were really responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Western envoys typically walk out of Ahmadinejad's speeches in protest.

Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Iran - under U.N., U.S. and European Union sanctions over its nuclear program - is used to economic restrictions and was not severely affected by them.

"The conditions in Iran are not as bad as they are portrayed by some," Ahmadinejad said, adding that his country can survive without oil revenues.

Ahmadinejad added that Iran's economy was in much better shape than that of the EU, which he said was "on the verge of disintegration and collapse."

There will be high-level side meetings on Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian conflict during the General Assembly, but U.N. diplomats do not expect either issue to be resolved soon.

Ahmadinejad's annual visits to New York, a city with a sizable Jewish population, are routinely met with protests against his anti-Israel rhetoric.

The New York Post newspaper said on Monday it tried unsuccessfully to deliver to his delegation a Jewish-themed welcome basket containing traditional Jewish foods, such as Gold's Borscht and Manischewitz Gefilte Fish, as well as a ticket to the off-Broadway play "Old Jews Telling Jokes."

'WE SEEK PEACE IN SYRIA'

The United Nations and Western officials have accused Iran of supplying weapons to Syria's pro-government forces, while Syria's government has accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of arming rebels determined to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Ahmadinejad rejected the charge that Iran was sending arms to Syria. "The so-called news that you alluded to has been denied vehemently, officially," Ahmadinejad said to a question.

"We see both sides as equally our brothers," he said. "The intervention and meddling from outside have made conditions that much tougher. We must help to quell the violence and help ... (facilitate) a national dialogue."

Ahmadinejad was also asked about a move by an Iranian religious foundation, in response to the "The Innocence of Muslims," to increase its reward for the killing Rushdie.

"Where is he now?" Ahmadinejad asked of Rushdie. "Is he in the United States? If he is, you shouldn't broadcast that for his own safety.

Rushdie, an Indian-born British novelist who has nothing to do with the video, was condemned to death in 1989 by Khomeini, Iran's late leader, over his novel "The Satanic Verses," saying its depiction of the Prophet Mohammad was blasphemous.

Ahmadinejad also addressed the issue of a California-made anti-Islam video, "The Innocence of Muslims," that has sparked anti-American protests around the Muslim world. He appeared to reject Washington's position that while it condemns the video's content, freedom of expression must be upheld.

"Freedoms must not interfere with the freedoms of others," Ahmadinejad said. "If someone insults, what would you do? ... Is insulting other people not a form of crime?"

Iran has a two-term limit for presidents. Ahmadinejad, widely seen as out of favor with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ends his second term next year. "But that does not mean I will be separating myself from politics," he said.

REUTERS

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